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Visiting Special Collections

Since 2015 Holding History has worked to bring people into special collections libraries, often for the first time. We continually expand and improve our approach to these visits and are dedicated to making our approach widely available to students and instructors. Below you will find materials and step-by-step instructions designed to support classroom visits to rare book archives. Over half of our students have never visited special collections or handled rare books. This sequence leaves students with the confidence and know-how to return to the library and carry out independent research.



UW-Madison librarians have created a helpful tutorial for special collections visitors. We ask students to complete the first two portions of the lesson linked above.

Library Module


Special Collections Video

Next, students watch this HH-produced video that prepares students for what to expect during their visit. Student surveys have told us that this is the single most valuable resource we share with students. This video is specific to UW but offers some universal guidance as well.

Visiting SC Video


The Holding History Podcast is a series of

fast-paced, bookish conversations. We interview archivists, librarians, scholars, and artists, discussing the fascinating and, sometimes puzzling, ways we record, share, and preserve cultural knowledge. We ask students to listen to one episode now, and another before they return to special collections. The episodes featuring Fenella France and Greg Mackie have been especially popular and focus on rare books.

Holding History Podcast


This curriculum has been greatly improved by the feedback we’ve received from students over the years. The document provided here contains example questions that can be tailored for use at any university. Ideally, students are surveyed immediately following their first visit to SC with the experience fresh in their minds. 


After visiting special collections as a class, students return to the library and conduct individual research. Students receive a prompt guiding their exploration and work with librarians to access new collection items and take research notes. We are continuing to develop independent research materials and will share them in the future. 

Exit Survey
Indepedent Research
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